Weed People profiles personalities from America’s weed sector -- activists, entrepreneurs, academics, and innovators that push legalization forward. This week, cannabis entrepreneur Derek Peterson. 

As scores of prospective weed businesses flood the legal market, the media is aptly calling the current era in cannabis history the Weed Gold Rush. New companies, armed with both brilliant ideas and harebrained schemes, are storming the market and hoping to strike it rich. Above the ground level melee, a few companies are looking beyond the current era to the lucrative and sustainable future of cannabis across US states. 

Derek Peterson is a former investment banker who went all in on pot, jettisoning his career for the wilds of the newly legal weed industry. He is now the CEO of Terra Tech, a hydroponics specialist vying for cultivation licenses in several states that are quickly moving toward legalization. Thanks to foresight and business know-how, it could easily soon become one of weed’s major national brands. 

HT: Describe your involvement with cannabis.
DP: Before entering the cannabis space, I worked on Wall Street. I saw the potential in the emerging cannabis industry and made the transition. I now co-own Blum dispensary in Oakland which services approximately 700 patients a day and am the CEO of Terra Tech (TRTC), a publicly traded agricultural company aggressively looking to enter the cannabis space. I support cannabis as a product, business owner, and consumer. With legalization will come an industry, and I’d like to see a responsible and environmentally sustainable industry emerge. I smoke recreationally but also use it to deal with neck and back pain associated with a broken neck from a surfing accident.

How is state-level legalization affecting your cannabis-related activities?
Aside from branding, everything is done on a state level. Because of the federal restrictions, each state is its own market with its own rules and characteristics. Each state needs to be evaluated as such. It is difficult at times because you need to enter each market with a unique strategic approach due to certain nuances that exist from state to state. At the same time, the dichotomy between state and federal laws has allowed smaller companies to carve out a footprint without the threat of larger companies consuming the industry.

What are some of the victories of state-level legalization in your area?
Nevada’s medical marijuana program is great because it allows for reciprocity for out-of-state patients. Colorado’s historic victory has allowed the industry to mature, and it has made people more comfortable with investing in the industry. Florida’s recent high-CBD medical marijuana bill will help give the industry a running start for its likely expansion after the upcoming November vote. California is without a state level structure, so cities, towns, and counties are determining their rules on a fragmented basis, which makes the environment a bit tricky to navigate. However, it has allowed entrepreneurs a less strict platform to experiment with different business models. We’re looking closely at developments across the country to do our best to be among the first into these markets when possible. 

What are some of the failures of state-level legalization in your area?
California’s 2010 vote was disappointing, but so much has happened since then that it’s hard to call anything a failure. This movement has done a great job of adapting as we move forward, and we’ve been moving forward very quickly. A clear majority of Americans now support the full legalization, taxation, and regulation of cannabis for adults. That’s the result of decades of work and public education campaigns, and it wasn’t until very recently that we achieved our first real win.

Do you believe the federal government is making progress towards decriminalization or legalization?
I believe that the politics that surround cannabis are changing with society. Congress recently included a hemp cultivation provision in the Farm Bill and a large portion of Congress has voted in support of medical cannabis reforms. The Administrative branch seems to have noticed the shifting political winds as well. 

How long, do you predict, before weed is completely legal in America?
I’d say 5 to 10 years, to be safe. Even then, there may be a few states that hold out. Momentum is building in the industry and that has a way of accelerating progress.

How long, do you predict, before weed is completely legal in the world?
I think in 15 years we’ll see cannabis legal in many countries around the world. Similar to my answer above, you may not see it legal everywhere even then. 

What is the biggest challenge facing legalization on a state level?
Time and education. The trends are all in our favor. We just need to keep them going in this direction. Education is key. There is a ton of misinformation around the plant, from side effects to increasing crime. It will take time to dispel these myths. 

A national level?
Voters need to exercise their power and influence.  Politicians tend to be reactive in nature to what their constituents want and don't want to risk not being reelected by going out on a limb for a cause that isn't broadly supported.  Fortunately, most of the recent polls suggest a majority of Americans want to tax and regulate cannabis. However, that needs to be effectively communicated to their political representatives.